> Poor Gardening vs. Good Gardening Techniques

Gardening on the French Riviera – or: tradition is not a reason that’s good enough …

It’s worth while to learn what gardens and plants look like, which have been cared for with love, horticultural knowledge, proven gardening techniques – and first and foremost – with an interest in their owners’ views. 

Good practical gardening starts with a good garden layout, good planting schemes, the right plant choice and correct spacing of plants. But most gardens are what they are and they too need the best possible maintenance and maybe some careful renovation over time. 

Like in every good craftmanship or artisanship, every gardening technique should serve a purpose. There should always be a specific reason why things are done the way they are done. Gardening is a profession that needs mindfulness and know-how, a trained eye, taste, systematic planning, methodic action and constant learning. Tradition is not enough a good reason to do certain things the wrong way.

Green Parrot Gardens | Good Gardening - Bad Gardening

Poor gardening leads to poor results, which are not beautiful. Poor gardening still costs a lot of money, and it just doesn’t make any sense.

We think, the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is the ultimate authority in both, best gardening techniques and best horticultural knowledge.

Here’s a very small list of “poor” versus “good” gardening techniques. Perhaps a good read for a rainy day.

Pruning   Renovation   Planting   Olive trees   Citrus trees

Dwarf palms   Soil   Mulching   Compost   Irrigation

Job “poor gardening” “good gardening”
incl. oleander, box, leafy shrubs and hedges
 Plants not pruned according to specific needs and growth pattern.  Plants are pruned according to RHS standards: individual species are treaded individually.
 Pruning is done according to what can be done with a specific tool: machines preferred to hand tools. Hand tools dull and rusty. Tools match the job. Tools are maintained constantly.
 Shrubs are not cleared close to the soil to form a crown and lift the plant from the ground. Plants are more prone to diseases and remain aesthetically indifferent. All shrubs are cleared close to the ground so moisture and diseases cannot easily enter the plant’s leaves. Plants are healthier and more attractive.
 Leaves are cut in half instead of twigs and stems. Where possible, e.g. with larger leaf shrubs, leaves stay intact. Twigs are cut instead of leaves. Plant is healthier, diseases cannot enter.
 After cutting diseased plants tools are not washed and/or desinfected. When cutting diseased greenery, tools are disinfected.
 Branches of hardwood plants are cut with machines: plants get injured.
 Hardwood plants are never cut with machine hedge cutters. Machine hedge cutters are only good for softwood. Instead shears are the right tool. With a knowledgable gardener working time is about the same.
 Plants pruned only to meet certain height or form. Plants are pruned according to their individual needs and according to desired effect.
 Growth points, ‘eyes’ and sleeping buds are not seen and ignored, they are cut in two. Branches and twigs are always cut right to a new growth point. Only this prevents infections and new healthy growth.
 Growth direction by cutting above outward facing buds is unknown. Inside growth is eliminated where necessary. Outside facing buds are chosen to be the first ones to sprout again after pruning.
 Direction and angle of cuts to foster forming of new sleeping buds is unknown. Water run off and plant sap movement, and thus growth direction are considered at all times.
 Stems are cut anywhere. Diseases enter the stems. Stems are always cut close to the next growth point. This distance varies with different species.
 Plant is not pruned to be trained inward out but to reduce height only. General training direction of plants is always inside out and bottom up.
 Branches are not cut with a balance between diameter and length. Branches are cut so they’re able to carry their own weight. Leggy growth is unhealthy and ususally due to a lack of light because of wrong spacing or lack of renovation in the surroundings of plant.
 Plant is not tidied up inward out and bottom up. Tidying up plants inside is necessary for plant health, light distribution and wildlife reasons. Also tidied plants look nicer.
 Inward and criss-crossing branches are not taken out or shortened. Dead wood is not taken out. Dead wood carries deseases and attracts insects to lay their eggs in plant. Dead wood has to be taken out of plants at a regular basis. Criss crossing branches will result in damaged tissue, leading to dead wood.
 Suckers and watershoots from base or roots are not eliminated. Suckers and shoots are not only cut but ‘pinched out’. Soft green vertical growth takes a lot of water and nutriens from the base of the plant. Valuable growth energy is put into unhealthy and leggy growth which eventually block up the plant from inside.
 Diseased growth not taken out all the way to next healthy eye or to the base. Branches that show signs of diseased or weak growth are always cut back or taken out to direct power to healthy parts of plant.
 Leading growth is not supported by directional training. Outward facing laterals are not trained but ignored. One or multiple vertical leaders are always chosen and strengthened, depending on species. Lateral growth is sorted out and strengthened by cutting back carefully (training).
 Weak or too old growth inside the plant is ignored. Weak growth and branches that will cause problems soon are taken out pro-actively. If not done in time, plants will suffer.
 Plant is cut into formal round or square shape even if the species is not fit for it. This is true for many species that are used as hedge plantings on the French Riviera. Instead suitable hedge and topiary plants should be used. Examples for plants that are not suitable for square hedge forms are Elaeagnus or Oleander and many more.
 Plant is not opened up. Instead, outer level of plant stems is strengthend by hedge-type cutting. Wildlife cannot enter plant. Opening plants up from the inside is extremely important to allow light and air enter the plant and keep it healthy. Diseases often start on the base level and move upwards on the indide of a plant. Always ‘hedge-cutting’ the outer parts creates a strong layer of tiny twigs.
 Plant base is not kept clean of branches or twigs. Lower basal stem is not covered in soil if exposed by rain or tools. Diseases often start on the ground (s.a.). Basal stem must be covered in soil (see Oleander!) but not stem. Soil directly on stem leads to bark rot.
 Poorly pruned and weakened plant is exposed to the sun. Often leaves are split by machines or unprecise cutting. These leaves always die away and leave an unpleasant appearance of plant. Direct sun light hits leaves, kills them and puts whole plant under stress. Extreme water and nutrient loss is consequence.
 No watering, mulching, feeding after pruning. After pruning plants should always be fed with organic material and watered to initiate the natural healing process and close wounds from cutting.
 Fast growing species like oleander don’t get renovated. Oleander and other fast growers need constant renovation to stay nice. They are extremely prone to leggy and unhealthy growth, basal stem rot, diseased inside branches, unhealthy suckers, oleander canker, and tend to pick up diseases from the ground.
 When planted, plants are spaced too closely. Plants should be spaced either to their final size or to their size in 2-3 year’s time. After that period plants should be singled. Plants that have now proper space will get unhealthy by fighting for the same resources.
 Longtime plant health, sustainability and value of plant, relatively to its age when lost, is ignored. Plants are trained to be beautiful individual specimen, which also makes them more valuable. Cluttered and wilderness-like growth is checked or left for the boundaries and less important parts of a garden.
 Maintenance money is wasted on poor pruning that only controls hight and does damage to the plant.Investment money is lost, instead of paying for training the plant to be more valuable. Maintenance money is not wasted with ‘cleaning’ and ‘tidying away’ green waste, but invested to train beautiful and valuable specimens.
of plants
 Plant renovation is not done on a regular basis. Plant renovation is best done on a regular basis, when pruning. If this is not possible, renovation is necessary, in warm climates with sufficient water supply, at least once every 1-2 years.
 If renovation is done, it’s not done in several traning steps but in one go. Renovations in one go often result in radical pruning, which is aesthetically undesirable. Step by step renovations better match the idea of training a plant.
 Trees are not trained back into a shape but only reduced in size. Trees and shrubs are always trained back into shapes, even if this will take more than one season.
 Branches of trees are cut according to old ‘coppicing’ and ‘pollarding’ systems, which are not suited for this treatment.
Coppicing is an old forestry method for harvesting slender and flexible wood. Pollarding is a method for cutting planes in order to keep them at a certain height.
 The old-fashioned way of coppicing and pollarding is the wrong technique most of the times. Coppicing is never used. Pollarding is only used where the look of a French boule field is favoured or where trees have to be kept at a certain height.
 Branches are sawn off in wrong angle relative to the growth direction.
 If branches are sawn off, they are taken back to the next strong vertical or lateral. This technique is used for every branch, in a manner that the tree receives a shape again. With trees, angles are 90 degrees from growth direction. Woody shrubs are trained with using the next outside facing bud.
 Rough saw blades detach bark from stem. Water and diseases enter the plant. Saw blades are as thin and sharp as possible. Undercuts and cuts are done according to the RHS standards. Plant heals itself.
 Sawn off branches are “painted” (most times wrong technique). Sealing is not necessary most of the times and is considered more damaging than useful; often times it ‘seals in’ diseases instead of preventing them.
 Plant is not tidied up inside. Tidying up wood plants is done on a regular basis.
 Woody plants are cut off right above the ground (another form of coppicing). This is never done. It’s only an option when singling of plants that are too closely spaced is not possible and digging them up isn”t an option neither.
Planting Plants are spaced too close, when planted. Plants are spaced according to their approximate size after 2-3 years or acc. to their final size.
 Too closely spaced plants are not ‘singled’ after 1-3 years. If close planting was required to give an impression of abundance, plants will be singled after a period of 1-3 years.
 Trees, even matured specimens, are bought as potted plants. If possible trees are acquired from proper nurseries, where trees are always raised in the ground and transplanted and root-cut every few years. Potted trees, that have already matured are never a good choice.
 Potted plants are used even though roots have already matured. Potted plants should always have a good layer of loose soil between rootball and pot.
 Plants have already filled pots with roots. If potted plants have to be acquired, specimens are chosen that have not filled the pot already.
 Diseased or poorly raised plants are used. Diseased or badly grown plants will not be used.
 Plants without a clear ‘leader’ are chosen. Plants should always have one or more clear leaders that are required for a proper vertical training.
 Planting holes are not large enough. Especially with bad soil conditions planting holes must be large enough to give the plant enough time to grow strong until it faces the bad soil conditions. Width is more important than depth. Depth is important for drainage, though.
 Sides of planting holes are not loosened. Sides are properly loosened.
 Plants are not watered before planting. Every potted plant should be watered in its pot until soaked, prior to planting.
 Root ball is not loosened. Roots are loosened away from the center of the rootball to form a kind of outward facing screen.
 Initial root ball cut is not done. Dead roots are taken out of root ball. Some roots are carefully cut a few centimeters to kickstart root growth.
 Plant is not set on planting mound. A planting mound is essential to initiate horizontal root spreading; otherwise roots tend to keep growing in circles, which destabilises the plant.
 Drainage of soil is not tested; hole is not adjusted. Where drainage is poor, hole is adjusted and filled with freely draining organic material.
 Plant is planted too high or too low, relatively to soil level in pot and in situ: roots are exposed or basal stem is covered in soil. Planting to high results in basal stem and root damaging as well as washing away of soil around upper roots (often the case with oleander). Planting to low results in bark rot. Both ways plants get killed.
 Soil is not amended with compost and/or manure and/or root hormones. Soil is always amended, not only once, when planting, but constantly.
 Soil is heavily compacted in planting hole. Soil (limestone decomposition soil) which is poor of humus or organic material in general is easily compacted. Compacted soil is counterproductive to root growth and drainage. So, soil is only slightly compacted, as watering will compact is anyway.
 Plant doesn’t get initial formative prune. After planting, most plants receive a first careful prune, which is essential for most trees and shrubs.
 Trees don’t get supports for 1-2 years. Most plants receive some kind of support, esp. when exposed to mistral or heavy sea winds.
 Smaller soft stemmed plants don’t get single support. Perennials also receive a support, because mistral can hit and damage plants also in summer.
 Irrigation is not set up instantly Irrigation is crucial and is set up immediately. Plant gets dedicated microdrip nozzle on little stand, which makes it adjustable as plant grows.
Olive trees SEE ALSO ‘PRUNING’  
 Olive trees are hardly ever pruned. Pruning of olives is not required where olives are grown for harvesting olives. In these cases olives are only renovated in larger time frames. Where olives are used as ornamental trees, pruning is a necessity to give them a shape.
 If olives are cut, they are not cut and trained as fruit trees  Due to the specific growth habits of fruit trees, olives are also cut accordingly, which means to open them up, to check lengthy vertical softwood growth and to train the tree outwards.
 Coppicing and pollarding are routine pruning techniques: branches are simply sawn off Coppicing and pollarding cannot be used on fruit trees.
 Vigorous ‘shooting’ growth after massive cuts are not checked. Leaders are not chosen, trained and continously supported.
 Olives tend to react with vigorous new softwood growth after renovations. In these cases healthiest leaders are sorted out and trained. Parallel growth is pinched out when possible. Laterals are chosen to train the tree outwards.
 Olive trees are not opened up inside.
 Olives tend to get bushy in a short while. In order to allow sun and wind to enter the tree, olives need to be opened up. It also helps to allow birds enter the tree and strengthens the overall ornamental use.
 Suckers are not pinched off. Olives produce many watershoots and suckers around the basal stem, roots and along the branches. They are always pinched off.
 Old and dead wood is not removed continuously Olives tend to crack open, show detached bark and survive even desastrous incidents. Any sign of dead wood or dying wood is taken out or off, as insects love these little hideaways to raise their future generations.
 If planted they are not mounted. Olives are very sensitive to drainage problems. When planted they are always mounted to enhance drainage.
 Olive trees are given ‘pseudo’ machine cloud or bonsai cuts. While it’s possible to shape olives, it takes knowledge, experience and a good eye. Olives are not suitable for original Japanese ‘cloud’ or ‘bonsai’ pruning. It is not possible to do a ‘hedge’ cut with machines either. It’s also not good taste.
 If bought, they’re bought in pots. If possible olives are never bought in pots or containers – unless very joung – but always from proper nurseries, where they are kept in the ground until they’re sold.
 Olives are kept in planters. Olives cannot stay in planters for a long time. They will be prone to diseases. Olives should always be planted into the ground.
 When in planters crown is kept larger than root ball. Only with very mature trees in the wild, root systems get bigger than the crowns. In containers crowns in general should be kept the size of the container.
 Diseases are not recognized and checked. Diseases are checked on a regular bases, so they are recognized early on.
 Water pockets are not recognized and checked. Olives tend to develop water pockes in old or dying wood or between branches. This leads to rot and more diseases. Water pockets should alsways be checked if possible somehow.
Citrus trees SEE ALSO ‘PRUNING’  
 Citrus trees are hardly ever pruned. Citrus trees are pruned on a regular basis, no matter if the fruit are used or if trees serve ornamental purposes.
 No regular thinning out inside of tree. Citrus trees produce a lot of soft wood growth on the inside of the tree that needs to be checked at least once a year. Trees are very prone to many different diseases. In order to keep them at bay, twiggy inside growth needs to be held back.
 No attention to drainage paid. Citrus trees need constant water but are very prone to root rot if drainage is bad. When planted, citrus trees should be slightly mounted if soil is slow draining.
 No regular watering during warm season. During warm season citrus trees need regular watering. Ideally roots can be watered directly through a watering pipe.
 If irrigated, water often hits bark on basal stem. Automatic irrigation never sprays against the bark. Especially basal stem is vulnarable.
 No pinching of vigorous soft growth. Soft growth is pinched of very carefully with a finger’s nail to eliminate the growth point but to also not hurt the bark.
 No regular feeding. Citrus trees need regular feeding several times per year. This is even necessary if fruit are not harvested.
 No regular spraying against diseases. Citrus trees are sprayed on a regular basis, where possible with biological remedies.
 No regular harvesting. Even if fruit are not eaten. Harvesting needs to be done to prevent falling, rotting and later moulding fruit on the ground, infecting the soil.
Dwarf palms No regular pruning of old fan leaves. Old and diseased fans are taken off on a regular basis. Chamaerops which are not pruned regularly will become bushy and very unattractive. Unpruned dwarf pams are main reason why people don’t like this native palm species. If pruned chamaerops is a very attractive plant which also serves very well as a focal point.
 No regular cutting of old woody leaf base rests. Though more for aesthetic reasons the dried woody leaf bases are sheared off close to the stems. This also helps to keep pests away.
 No elimination of diseased leaves. Diseased parts of the plant are always cut off as quickly as possible. If there is reason palm is checked for paysandisia infestation.
 No early cutting of ripened fruit. Fruit are cut off early before they easily fall down and result in 100s of new palm trees. This also prevents from the unpleasant smell that arises as the fruit are ripening.
 No thinning out in center of Chamaerops Chamaerops will only stay healthy if sun enters the plant and especially wind can go through it. Also future maintenance is easier this way.
 No continuous suppressing of internal growth at base. If possible with a renovation the vigorous new growth from old seeds is checked and either cut out or killed, both of which is complicated. Suppressing the internal growth is done to keep the palm in shape.
 No regular treatment against paysandisia. Paysandisia is constantly checked and palm is treated when butterfly is present.
 No or to much irrigation. Chamaerops can survive droughts but does a lot better and gets more beautiful when watered on a regular basis.
 Planting a chamaerops withouth regard to the right place. Dwarf palms need a lot of space and do best in direct sun. They should be planted accordingly.
Soil Not seen as the basis of garden life. Soil amelioration is of no importance.
 Soil is of utmost importance. Seen as the basis of garden life.
 Soil is not amended with organic material: main nutrients are minerals. Soil is constantly amended with rich, perfectly made compost. Organic nutrients from plant cuttings are fed back to the soil. Plants and wildlife become healthier, disease resistant, more beautiful. Soil doesn’t get emaciated, but richer.
 Many plants don’t grow or grow poorly. Most plants that can take some sun will thrive.
 Soil consists mainly of limestone decomposition material with high portions of clay and iron (chromic cambisol). Soil components stick together. Water drains slowly, roots cannot grown through soil easily. Soil alters its structure over the years. Organic material builds a humus rich, healthy soil in which most plants will thrive. Water drains more quickly and doesn’t get washed away in winter. Roots grow through soil easily.
 Soil shows shallow horizon. Soil is built up to create a larger soil horizon. Up to 1,50/1,70 m is possibe even with smaller distances.
 Soil rarely gets tilled, loosened or aerated. Due to soil structure the number of beneficient micro organisms and soil biota is small. Soil gets tilled and lossened deeply with larger garden projects. Soil gets loosened and worked through with compost on a regular basis. Over time organic material washes into the cambisol.
 When planting, soil is even more compacted. Soil is enriched with large amounts of organic material and only lightly compacted. Roots will form much quicker and thus protect plant’s stand.
 When doing regular garden work, stones are not picked and taken away, but rather considered as benefiscient to drainage. Stones are constantly removed. They don’t help drainage. Instead they serve as weight and further compact soil. They also hinder free growth of roots and harm tools.
 When building a garden after construction works have finished the soil is neither worked through nor sifted, often only top-dressed.
 When building a garden soil is deeply tilled and built up with compost, if possible up to 40/50cm deep. Top dressing will be useful only in subsequent years.
 No mulching. Regular mulching.
 No organic matters, only minerals, are washed into the (already minerally rich decomposed limestone) soil. Organic matter is constantly added to soil through decomposition.
 Soil is washed away. Soil is more likely to stay in place.
 Weeds grow freely. Weeds are suppressed.
 Water is not retained in summer. Water is retained in summer.
 Top soil and fine top roots heat up. Top soil around fine top roots is cooler.
 Plants are stressed. Lower stem and top roots less stressed.
Compost No compost – not sustainable.
 Composting is a routine. Sustainable.
 Cuttings, i.e. valuable plant food, are burnt or taken away and wasted.
Waste of nutrients.
 All cuttings, except large pieces of wood and palm rests, are chipped or shredded and professionally composted.Compost is kept healthy and non-smelly. When finished, fresh humus is worked into the soil. No waste of nutrients.
 No benefits for soil and garden. Multiple benefits for the garden.
 Artificial fertilizers needed. Fertilizers come from the garden.
 Soil is emaciated. Soil is built up and enriched over time.
 Plants are less disease resistant. Plants are healthier and grow more beautiful.
 Pests and diseases within and on topsoil thrive. Pests and diseases within and on topsoil are proactively reduced.
 Soil drains poorly in winter and gets washed away. Soil drains better in rain season and is more likely to stay in place.
 Fine top roots are exposed to sun. Water is wasted.
 Top roots stay covered by soil. Water is saved.
 In summer irrigation water is not retained. Irrigation water is retained.
 Roots are prone to root rot. Less danger of root rot.
 Big carbon footprint. Waste of fuel and time. Small carbon footprint. Fuel and time are saved.
  More traffic, more fuss. Waste of money. Less traffic, less fuss.Money saved.
Irrigation Automatic irrigation is not installed: failing to water regularly and correctly during warm season results in loss of plants and thus loss of money. Automatic irrigation is regularly installed. Plants are fed and watered, money is invested in plant growth and health, instead of lost.
 Wrong system is chosen and/or not properly installed; pipes are too long for individual system: pressure at end of line too low. Professional systems are chosen and installed. Garden specialists install systems where horticultural know how is needed – on the plants. Lines are kept at a decent length. Sufficient pressure is available everywhere.
 Nozzles are not checked and cleaned on a regular basis. Nozzles are checked regularly and/or before warm season starts.
 Old nozzles stay in pipe or don’t get sealed off properly, water is wasted and pressure is lost. Old nozzles rarely occur due to a ‘nozzle on stand’ system, where nozzles not in use are simply turned off.
 Nozzles are put directly in line, nozzles on pods are more effective. Nozzles on little stands allow better watering adjustment per plant, better maintenance, cleaning and change of position as plants grow.
 Non-adjustable nozzles are used: irrigation is not calibrated to plant. Nozzles are always adjustable. Watering without calibration of amount doesn’t make sense.
 Horizontally installed nozzles spray water into surface root region and wash away soil: roots are exposed. All nozzles and sprayers are installed to slowly soak soil. Soil stays in place.
 Where pipes need to be dug in, pipes are not put into the ground deeply enough. Pipes are always installed at least 40 cm deep in the ground.
 Strong water pipelines for additional individual hoze spraying or can watering are not installed. Strong water pipelines are always recommended to the client and planned with garden design, if requested.
 Nozzles are set up wrong, spraying water with high pressure against basal stem or bark on woody plants, leading to bark or basal rot. Basal stems and stems/bark stay dry.
 No small basin around plant is formed, water runs off. Small watering basin is formed when planting and maintained before warm season if plant is not established.
 No compost is worked into the soil, soil doesn’t retain water during hot period.  Compost is worked in on a regular basis to allow water soak in around the plant and not run off.